Orlando’s most overlooked attraction

Orlando’s most overlooked attraction

Orlando’s most overlooked attraction

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Orlando is known for many things, but, until recently, it hasn’t always been known as a culinary destination. Which is a shame – Orlando has lots of unique cuisine to sample and colorful neighborhoods to visit.

Thankfully, Orlando Food Tours makes it fun and easy to explore one of the city’s best neighborhoods and try some delicious food and drinks. No matter if you are a visitor or a resident, these tours should be added to your must-do list.

The neighborhood

I love Winter Park, especially Park Avenue – it is one of Orlando’s wealthiest, most beautiful neighborhoods. And thanks to Orlando Food Tours, I was able experience a destination that I love so much in a whole different way.

 

Winter Park is about 20 minutes from the attractions area, but it feels worlds apart from the bustling tourist district. Some of Orlando’s best dining can be found here, alongside beautiful boutiques, the mesmerizing Morse Museum, and opulent homes and mansions.

The tour
Orlando Food Tours are offered almost every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Currently, Winter Park is the only neighborhood in which the tours take place, but there are plans to expand to other locations.

We gathered in front of Prato and Kilwin’s at 11:45am.

 

Being the weekend, Park Avenue was bustling. Parking can be a little tricky; I recommend the free parking garage on the corner of Park and Garland Avenues.

Our tour guide, Jenny, welcomed each of us and provided a map of our tour route and a quick overview of what to expect.

 

The tour consisted of visiting six restaurants and shops, along with brief visits to a few historical and cultural sites. In total, we enjoyed two-and-a-half hours of nibbling, sipping, and learning.

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The stops
Each stop included food and drink samples, with our tour guide providing some background information about each location and a representative of each establishment greeting and welcoming us.

We visited Prato first. One of the most popular Italian restaurants in all of Orlando – and certainly ranked tops along Park Ave – Prato serves fresh local food with rustic and warm Italian flavors. The menu changes seasonally based on the best, freshest ingredients available throughout Florida.

 

 

We were served two pizzas fresh out of the coal-fire oven (which was made in Italy and shipped over just for Prato). The first is known as the Widow Maker, with a rich, spicy tomato sauce, fennel sausage, herbs, and topped with a fried egg with a golden yolk that seeped into the crust. Our mouths watered, anticipating the first taste. At first bite, all of the getting-to-know-each-other conversation ceased as each of us couldn’t get enough.

Next up, Prato presented us with the Florentina pizza, a decidedly different presentation compared to the rich tomato and sausage we had just devoured. This was a white-style pizza with creamy, nutty cheese, sage, caramelized onions, and thinly-sliced Prosciutto ham.

We each struggled to pick which we liked best – they were both so delicious. However, I did indulge in seconds of the Widow Maker, so I guess that settles it for me. We toasted our first stop with our glass of Pinot Grigio wine and some beer for the gentlemen. Our tour certainly started off on a very high note.

Our next stop became an unexpected favorite. The Ancient Olive shop offers a vast collection of specialty olive oils, balsamic vinegars, gourmet spreads, dips, and other specialty foods.

We were treated to a private tasting of a variety of olive oils, including a tutorial on the proper tasting technique. I delighted in the surprising flavors that each oil offered but was sent over the moon when we blended olive oils with different flavored balsamic vinegars. I quickly became enthralled with trying different combinations.

 

 

Although Ancient Olive specializes in artisan olive oils and balsamic vinegars, the other half of the store beckons to be explored. So many wonderful gourmet spreads, dips, snacks, and other nibbles make this a great place to pick up some gifts or great items for entertaining. We were also offered a sampling of different dips and spreads that are sold at the shop, and I was immediately inspired.

To wrap up our tasting, we were provided with a cocktail made from a special organic fruit drink mix, also sold at the store. (Everything in The Ancient Olive can be tasted, so you can try before you buy.) Before we departed, I tried a few more oil combinations – I was practically addicted to this new form of creativity.

(Side note: after our tour ended that afternoon, I made a return visit to The Ancient Olive to purchase a few items and use the 10% off coupon we were provided from Orlando Food Tours. My purchase included a cinnamon, clove tomato jam, and a mission fig balsamic vinegar, which I served over melted brie cheese during Thanksgiving. It was a hit!)

We continued along the avenue and headed down a side street to visit a few historical sites and points of interest. Having my hunger satisfied thus far, I enjoyed exploring a few places I wasn’t as familiar with and learning new facts about locations I already enjoy visiting. We gathered for a group photo at Casa Feliz, a lovely historical building and popular venue for private events and weddings.

 

Returning to Park Avenue, we headed into The Spice & Tea Exchange, our third stop. This charming shop is owned by the same folks as The Ancient Olive.

We were treated to a delicious mini pumpkin waffle topped with a cold vanilla spice cream, both made with their pumpkin spice blends. A variety of teas are offered here, as well, and the store’s host presented us with a fruity herbal iced tea spiked with vodka. I think I have a new favorite no-calorie mixer!

 

Right next-door to The Spice & Tea Exchange, our fourth stop was a visit to Orchid Thai. This quiet little Thai cafe is very intimate, with each table featuring a beautiful orchid.

We were seated at a table in the back and immediately presented with a platter of four different bites. Our group unanimously favorited the Satay Chicken and Golden Purses (similar to Crab Rangoon).

 

We headed back onto the avenue, which was alive with the beginnings of the holiday shopping season. Charming Christmas decorations adorned doorways. Delightful window displays caught our eyes. We approached a familiar sight: Park Avenue’s Central Park and the SunRail/Amtrak train station (Winter Park’s existence is primarily credited to the railways and train station, in case you didn’t know).

The park is beautiful and hosts a variety of events. During the holidays, there is also an ice skating rink, which is open from late November through the first week of January. We admired the beauty of the park and the picture-perfect view of Park Avenue before continuing on our tour.

Our final two stops satisfied our sweet tooth. First up, Kilwin’s is a chain of candy shops that can be found nationwide. The sweet smell that emanated from the store was intoxicating. We got to step behind the candy counter and sample a delicious apple pie-flavored caramel apple (super yum!) and a scoop of toasted coconut ice cream.

With the holiday season upon us, my eyes glimmered at the sight of so many delightful holiday treats that filled the shelves of the shop.

 

We continued our stroll and rounded a corner to find the charming Sassafras Sweet Shoppe. This place is adorable! Nostalgic classic candies sit alongside crazy, off-the-wall treats. Hand-spun cotton candy is made fresh for each order. Colorful decor fills every corner.

As an adult, I was fascinated – I can only imagine how captivating this place is for a child.

 

 

After a brief final stop, we headed out in front of the storefront. Jenny, our guide, asked how we enjoyed our tour. Everyone in our group was very pleased. Jenny asked each of us about our favorite stops, and we all ranked Prato and Ancient Olive at the top of our list.

With our tour complete, I delighted in one more stroll back up Park Avenue. A wide smile stretched across my face. What a wonderful way to explore one of Orlando’s best treasures! I hope you have a chance to plan a memorable afternoon with Orlando Food Tours so you can see a whole other side to Orlando, too.

Orlando Food Tours typically last between two and three hours and include one-and-a-half miles of walking. Tickets cost $47.00 for adults, $35.00 for children ages six to 12, and $12.00 for children under six. The price includes all the food and beverages on the tour (though not a gratuity for your tour guide, which is definitely recommended). Tickets must be purchased beforehand, which you can do on the official website. For those unfamiliar with Winter Park’s location, view a map from Universal to Winter Park by clicking here.

Already been on an Orlando Food Tour? Plan on going on one during your next vacation? Let us know below.

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Dani Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani has always had a passion for tourism and hospitality. She is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. With work experience in six of Orlando's theme parks, she now works in the world of hotels. Follow her adventures on Twitter @thisfloridalife

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